Motherless Child Variations (2002), Perry Goldstein

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Motherless Child Variations (2002), Perry Goldstein
Year of Composition: 2002     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, November 22, 2002
Quality shows
Jan Jezioro

Earlier this year, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet was knocked out of their position as quartet-in-residence at the University at Buffalo, not for any reason that was based on their level of artistic accomplishment (round up the usual weak-kneed suspects: budgetary shortfall, etc.). Thursday evening, at their Allen Hall concert, broadcast live on WBFO, the ASQ clearly demonstrated by their high performance level that they were by no means ready to throw in the towel.

In this concert, the second in their current season, the ASQ played to their strenght, with a program heavily weighted towards recently written, listener-friendly, music. Yes, the program began with three arrangements from "The Art of the Fugue" by Bach. The ASQ played the pieces seamlessly — no surprise, since the pieces have been a part of their repertory for a long time, having appeared on their best-selling CD.

The performance really took off, though, with the American premiere of "Motherless Child Variations" by Perry Goldstein. Based on the spiritual of the same name, Goldstein's highly innovative treatment of the tune, through the course of six variations, never obscures the original song. Each of the members of the quartet got a chance to have their say, as the piece moved from its somber beginning through the blues into a swing jazz mode after a brief, funky stopover.

"Phantom Melos," by Rocco DiPietro, was composed on top of a tall downtown building, for the centenial of the City of Buffalo, as the composer tried to imagine all the people who had walked the streets below in days gone by. Beginning with long, drawn-out notes, each of the players got to perform solos in the forlorn opening before the piece solidified into a ghostly, off-kilter march that nicely captured a sense of nostalgia for the past.

The opening movement of "Quartet for Four Saxophones" by Anita Perry, a classically composed work, was an engagingly played lyrical song. The andante invoked a lonely feel, but more one of pastoral wandering than urban angst. The humorously written scherzo was played with the appropriate galumphing qualtiy, while the high energy playing of the ASQ pushed the final rollicking rondo movement to an exciting finish.

"Making the Frozen Serpent Dance" by Davide Zannoni started out strongly enough, with short songlike fragments developed over edgy, nervous figures in "The Serpent." The middle section, "The Frozen," by way of contrast, was a dead patrol interlude. The finale, "The Dance," relied too heavily on a pastiche of popular tunes to provide an effective conclusion to the piece.

"Yuppieville Rodeo" by Mike Mower was a short, highly entertaining piece that featured a down and dirty growling duo for tenor and baritone, highlighted by a screaming alto solo — a great way to end the evening.

The Art of the Fugue, J.S. Bach
Motherless Child Variations (2002), Perry Goldstein
Quartet for Four Saxophones (1989), Anita D. Perry
Making the Frozen Serpent Dance (2001), Davide Zannoni
Yuppieville Rodeo (1993), Mike Mower
Phantom Melos, Rocco DiPietro

Composer Biography

1952 —

PERRY GOLDSTEIN (born 1952 in New York City, New York) studied at the University of Illinois, UCLA, and Columbia University, from which he was awarded a doctorate in music composition in 1986. His principal composition teachers were Herbert Brun, Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky, Ben Johnston, and Paul Zonn. He has received commissions from Juilliard Quartet cellist Joel Krosnick and pianist Gilbert Kalish, saxophonist William Raaiman and the Zephyr String Quartet, The Aurelia Saxophone Quartet, Slagwerkgroep den Haag, HET Trio, violist John Graham, the Guild Trio, and pianist Eliza Garth, among others, and his music has been performed throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Europe. Recordings of his work are available on Challenge, New World, and Vanguard compact disks.

A dedicated educator, he received a 1997 "Chancellor's and President's Award for Excellence in Teaching" from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he has taught since 1992. He has also served on the faculty of the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. Goldstein has been involved in a variety of activities in the service of contemporary music. He has written extensively for, among other publications and organizations, The New York Times, The Library of Congress, Carnegie Hall, Strings Magazine, National Public Radio, Deutschlandfunk (German radio), the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, Speculum Musicae, the League-International Society for Contemporary Music, and for the New World, CRI, Arabesque, GM, Folkways, and Bridge recording labels. He serves on a number of new music boards and has been an adjudicator and advisor for several organizations. In 1992, he was the United States delegate to the UNESCO-sponsored International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, subsequently producing four radio programs of the event for American Public Radio.

Composition Notes

"Motherless Child Variations is based on the Spiritual of the same name. I have tried to stay out of the way of the tune and to present it in many guises, always careful to keep it recognizable. After a brief introduction, the melody occurs in six versions, in various characters. It is introduced in a somber duet between baritone and tenor saxes, alto and soprano then joining in for a bluesier four-part version. After a spirited, mixed-meter interlude, the tune returns in a new and funkier manifestation, led by the baritone saxophone playing a repetitive bass line, as well as a chorale version in which an unexpected harmonization unfolds in the instruments' highest registers. A subsequent gloss on the melody interpolates driving compound meter passages between piecemeal statements of the tune, in emulation of the "call and response" music so typical of the African American tradition. The harmonic structure implied by the melody supplies the backbone for three ensuing jazz swing choruses, alto, tenor, and soprano saxes soloing successively over the chord changes. The tune then resurfaces explicitly in one last straightforward and passionate rendition. Motherless Child Variations lasts approximately ten minutes." — Perry Goldstein